Galatians 2:11-14 ESV But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. For before certain men came from James, he was eating with the Gentiles; but when they came he drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party. And the rest of the Jews acted hypocritically along with him, so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy. But when I saw that their conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, “If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you force the Gentiles to live like Jews?”
Growing up I used to love to play basketball. I would always go to the park and play pick-up games with whoever was there. Normally I was a really good team player. I’d set picks, pass the ball to my teammates, played an aggressive defense, and took good shots. Yet, whenever the girls would come to watch some of us play, my game changed. I didn’t pass the ball as much and I took way too many bad shots. The reason was simple. I wasn’t playing to win anymore, I was playing to impress the ladies. I was playing with the wrong motives.
Cephas was a leader in the church who was acting hypocritically. Even though he was from a Jewish background, he was visiting and eating in the homes of the gentiles on a regular basis (A great thing for pastors to do.) It was a very real demonstration of how we are saved by faith in Christ and not the rituals that we keep. Yet when the Jewish folks came from headquarters, Cephas began playing a different game and no longer went to eat/ visit with the gentiles. So much so, that other folks who were looking to Cephas as an example stopped hanging out with the gentiles as well. This was a problem because it also communicated that the faith of the gentiles was inferior because they weren’t born into a Jewish family and they didn’t keep all the religious customs of the Jews.
Paul knew better, he’d fought many battles with folks who’d antagonized him on this issue, been to the first ever church council to clarify a major doctrine, and had seen many gentile believers firmly established in the faith. Yet now he encountered a church leader who had changed the way he was doing ministry and it was hurting the church. Paul called him out on it publicly because it was a public issue that affected the entire church. Public sins should be dealt with in public, private sins should be addressed in private.
This isn’t just an issue for church leaders though. Each day we have an opportunity to live a clear gospel witness. Indeed through the great commission we are called to take the gospel to the whole world. We may encounter some situations where we find ourselves hiding or muddying the waters on the gospel in order to fit in with the crowd. In such instances we may be playing to an audience rather than running the race the Lord has put before us.
Father, thank you for the grace. Thank you for friends and ministers like Paul in our lives who will call us out in our sin for the sake of the gospel. I pray that you give us wisdom and courage to live a clear gospel witness in whatever we do. Give us wisdom in living out a clear gospel witness today. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.
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